Inducted into MNZ Hall of Fame: 2017
It’s not very often a sportsperson comes along that can perform at or near the top level of their chosen sport for over 30 years. But Darryll King is no ordinary sportsman.
He and his four brothers were born in to a motorcycling family. His Dad raced bikes and owned a motorcycle business so it was natural that the King boys would take up the sport.
Darryll King started riding at just three years old on Honda QA50 mini bike, but he would have to wait till he was 10 years old to ride his first race at a club event in 1979.
It was around this time that Junior Motocross was gaining in popularity here and around the world. In 1980, Junior Motocross got its own New Zealand Championship status and, in 1984, Darryll King’s name appeared for the first time as a championship winner, taking out the 12-15 year old 80cc class.
The following season was his first in the senior ranks. It didn’t take long for King to establish himself as a serious senior competitor. At his first senior meeting – the Johnny Old MX – he rode a Honda CR125 and CR500. He won the 125cc class and won the last 500cc race of the day, beating the then-reigning New Zealand Champion, Murray Anderson.
His breakthrough in the senior ranks came in 1986 when he took out the New Zealand 125cc Motocross Championship, which came down to the last round at Pukekohe. He would follow this up with the Pro-126cc and over Championship in 1988.
This period was the beginning of a dominant run by Darryll King, his brother Shayne and Darryl Atkins. These three were gaining experience in New Zealand, the Pacific and Australia and, more than any before them, were destined for international careers.
Supercross arrived in New Zealand in the late 1980s and King showed he could adapt to this discipline, having raced in some overseas events. Competing against top Australians and American international racers at home, he showed that he was equal to them and at many times, even better. Whether racing in Tokoroa, Wellington, Auckland or Christchurch, Supercross was the ideal base to gain even more experience and support at home.
King would firmly plant himself at the top of the New Zealand racing scene in the 1991 season by winning the New Zealand Pro-125cc and Pro-250cc Motocross Championships and the New Zealand 125cc and 250cc Supercross Championships.
Finally Europe called and he left New Zealand on a wing and a prayer, with some support from home. It didn’t take long, however, to learn how difficult it could be, living in a van with limited funds and travelling to Grand Prix and international events – not the glamour life many thought. There must have been times when it was tempting to come back to New Zealand and be a big fish in a small pond.
His breakthrough season in Europe was 1995, which saw King finish in third spot in the FIM 500cc World Championship on his private Kawasaki. He then headed home to New Zealand for the off-season and won the 1996 Pro-250cc New Zealand Championship.
Returning to Europe, 1996 was a tough year in which King finishing fifth in the championship chase, while his brother Shayne was crowned World Champion.
King would fight for the top spot in the World Championship for the next two seasons, finishing runner-up in 1997 and 1998, riding for the Husqvarna factory.
Returning to New Zealand, he may not have won the World Championship but, after eleven seasons abroad, he had raced in over 100 Grand Prix and took five overall Grand Prix victories in Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany and Austria, along with many other successes.
Back in New Zealand, he set up his own riding academy and, with a contract with Yamaha, continued competing in New Zealand and Australia. He kept on winning on both sides of the Tasman, claiming the New Zealand 500cc Championship in 2002 and taking out the Australian Open Motocross Championship in 2001, 2003 and 2004.
In 2006, he took the New Zealand 125cc and 250cc Championship double. Showing there was still fight in the old racer, he would win his final New Zealand championships in 2011 and 2012, taking the MX2 title both years.
Just when he looked to be at the end of the line, he decided to have another shot at Europe. King finally reach the top of the world of Motocross when, at the age of 43, he became FIM World Veteran Cup Champion in 2012, returning in 2014 and 2015 to finish runner-up both years.
It is a remarkable career indeed, with hundreds of wins and more New Zealand off-road titles and major event wins than any other rider in history. Five World Grand Prix wins and twice runner up in the World Championship, he also represented New Zealand seven times in the Motocross des Nations annual event.
It is not just his successes, but his longevity and determination in the sport that sets him apart. He has suffered life-threatening injuries and other disappointments and challenges, but those situations only made him push on to succeed.
To be the best in the world and win a New Zealand championship 33 years after he first started in the sport is a true superman performance, and makes Darryll King arguably the country’s greatest ever Motocross rider. He is a worthy addition to the MNZ Hall of Fame.
Written for MNZ Copyright © 2017 Ian Dawson FastKiwiMedia